Understanding your Lab Results During Chemo

Understanding your Lab Results During Chemo

During chemo, there are a few important labs that your provider will run frequently. These specific tests help them determine the best course of treatment for you and give you and your provider an idea of how your body responds to treatment, guide future treatments and help you understand your risk for infection, anemia, or liver/kidney damage as you go through treatment.

Knowledge is power.

Below, I’ll outline two common panels that your doctor may order to check on your general health. This is meant to be a rough reference guide so be sure to ask your doctor what it might mean for YOU specifically if something comes back outside of the reference range!

Complete Metabolic Profile1

A panel that relays important information about your body’s metabolism and chemical balance. Click on the number under additional info to read more!

TestNormal RangeAdditional Info
Glucose70-99 mg/dLYour blood sugar levels! Glucose is the body’s main source of energy so it’s important for this to be balanced. It can indicate diabetes if high.2
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
6-23 mg/dL

An indicator of your kidney’s ability to remove waste products from the blood.3
Creatinine0.7-1.4 mg/dLA waste product of muscle breakdown which happens with everyday activities. This test indicates kidney function as the kidneys typically clear creatinine from the blood/urine.4
Sodium5

Potassium6

Chloride7

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)8
133-145 mEq/L,
3.3-5.1 mEq/L,
95-108 mEq/L,
21-30 mEq/L
Substances, sometimes called electrolytes, which help balance your body’s fluid and acid/base regulation. These tests can indicate a variety of metabolic disturbances such as dehydration, irregular heart rhythms, or alkalosis.
Calcium8.3-10.5 mg/dLAn important mineral for regulation of nerve, muscle, and heart function! Not just good for your bones!9
Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)10,
Alanine transaminase (ALT)11,
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)12
35-129 IU/L,
0-41 IU/L,
0-40 IU/L
A variety of liver enzymes which indicate liver function.
Bilirubin0-1.2 mg/dLA waste product from the liver that indicates liver function.13
Albumin3.5-5.2 g/dLA protein made in the liver that helps to carry out various bodily processes. Low levels may indicate liver or kidney dysfunction.14
Total protein6.4-8.3 g/dLA measure of the total protein in your blood.

Complete Blood Count15

An assessment of various cells which circulate in the blood which are good indicators of overall health and your risk for infection or disorders.

TestNormal Range Additional Info
Red Blood Cells (RBC)3.6-5.4 x 106/uLRBCs carry oxygen from lungs to your body. Low RBCs could indicate anemia.
Hemoglobin (Hb)11.2-15.7g/dLA protein that binds oxygen to RBCs. Low Hb can indicate anemia.
Hematocrit (Hct)34.1-44.9%The percentage of your blood made up of RBCs. Low Hct can also be used to screen for anemia as well as for dehydration.
Platelets151-424 x 103/uLPlatelets help with clotting. If platelets are low, you could bruise or bleed more easily, and if platelets are high, you could be at higher risk for blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism).
White Blood Cells (WBC)3.8-10.8 x 106/uLWBCs are immune cells which help to fight infection. Low WBC count could mean you are at higher risk for infections and you should take extra caution to stay healthy.16
Neutrophils34.0-72.0%,
(Absolute:
1.56-6.20 x 103/uL)
WBCs formed in bone marrow which specifically target bacteria and fungi. They are the first line of defence against infection!
Lymphocytes12.0-44.0%
(Absolute: 1.18-3.74 x 103/uL)
WBCs abundant in the lymphatic system that identify and destroy foreign invaders (like cancer cells!).
Monocytes0.0-12.0%WBCs that fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi, but which also play a role in tissue repair and healing.
Eosinophils0.0-7.0%WBCs that are involved in allergic inflammatory response and also target larger parasites (like worms).
Basophils0.0-2.0%WBC involved in allergic reactions.

Again, if your labs come back with any unusual values, be sure to discuss them with your physician so you fully understand the interpretation.

Here are some good questions to ask your doctor about your labs:

  • Why do you choose to run these specific lab tests?
  • What does it mean that my lab values came back high/low?
  • Are there any symptoms I should watch for that could indicate dehydration, anemia, blood clots, or infection?
  • What should I do if I think I am showing signs of infection (i.e. fever, chills, etc.)?
  • Is there a way I can see my lab values online? If not, can you print them for my records?
  • When should we run these tests again?

I hope this is a helpful reference guide for you as you begin to better understand your general health, but especially during chemotherapy. As always, feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments!

xo

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